Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a superfood: it’s a complete protein, high in iron and magnesium, and a source of calcium and fibre. What’s more, quinoa is gluten-free. It has a firm, slightly chewy texture and a nutty, vaguely oaty flavour. The most common colour is white, which is fluffier and more delicate-tasting than its red and black cousins, which are a little crunchier and have a stronger flavour.
Quinoa is remarkably versatile – it’s an interesting and nutritious substitute for rice, couscous and lentils; it can replace potato in fishcakes or other savoury patties; it can be mixed into stews, soups, stir-fries, curries, tagines and salads. Used as flour (or cooked whole and blended) it’s an alternative flour ingredient in gluten-free cakes and cookies.
Quinoa is usually cooked like rice. It’s important to rinse the uncooked product well – this is because if it hasn’t been pre-washed it’s coated in a bitter substance called saponin. Some people soak quinoa (pre-washed or not) for 10 minutes prior to cooking.
As a general rule use 200g of quinoa to 300-400g of water or stock: bring to the boil then simmer gently, covered, for around 15 minutes until it’s tender or the water has absorbed. Some cooks take quinoa off the heat after around 10 minutes and let it cook for the remaining time by residual heat.
To toast quinoa rinse it first, then lightly dry fry a small amount at a time in a medium hot frying pan, keeping it constantly moving with a metal whisk. As it dries out it will start to pop and brown; it will also smell deliciously nutty.
The mild taste of quinoa with a firm texture makes it perfect to be used in many vegetarian and vegan dishes. It can easily be used in the place of rice as a side dish or mixed into, or sprinkled on top of salad - as with Agnar Sverrisson’s Textures of cauliflower or Alfred Prasad’s Grilled aubergine rolls. For a healthy breakfast, add it to granola or stir it into some yoghurt with berries. For more recipe ideas, check out our quinoa collection.
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